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Advice for those on the go

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 2:24 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Star-Advertiser staff offer our take on the classic "what I did on my summer vacation" essay with these travel tips. Hopefully, you can benefit from our fun finds and missteps.

Flat-rate box saves souvenir hassles

When on vacation, one of the first things on your to-do list should be to get a couple of flat-rate shipping boxes from either the nearest post office or the hotel concierge, and a roll of tape. Assemble the box and leave it open in the hotel room closet. Whenever you pick up a souvenir or omiyage, just toss it in the box. When full, tape it up, slap on the mailing label and ask the front desk to add it to the outgoing mail, which most hotels are glad to do.

This way, you don't have to pack up gifts at the last minute, stuffing more stuff in your already jammed suitcase or carry-on bag. What with airlines charging $25 or more in baggage fees, the Postal Service route is cheaper. It's also easier on your back as you run to catch your plane. And when you get home — ta-dah! — all the things you bought are waiting on your doorstep.

— Cynthia Oi

San Fran museum is science adventure

A visit to San Francisco would not be complete without checking out the newly renovated California Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park. Whether you want to walk through a four-story rain forest with free-flying birds and butterflies, explore the ocean depths or journey into outer space, the academy has it all. It's a natural history museum, aquarium and planetarium, all under one roof.

The planetarium screening is free, but remember to get a ticket. I recommend lining up for the rain forest first, then heading down to the aquarium and hitting other parts of the museum, including a quick stop at the rooftop garden.

Download the Academy Insider, a free iPhone app that provides a self-guided tour, museum floor plans, fun facts and video and audio clips. You'll need at least one afternoon to explore everything at leisure — a whole day would be nice.

Tickets can be purchased online, and you can save $3 on admission by taking public transit. If you plan to park in the garage, visit for a real-time garage capacity report. For information, visit www.calacademy. org or call 415-379-8000.

— Nina Wu

Camping simplified at Evergreen Lodge

Call it camping for dummies, or more like camping for Hawaii smarties.

More like camping for Hawaii smarties who don't want to haul camping equipment to the mainland or spend big bucks renting gear once you're there. For $75 to $100 a night in peak season, the venerable Evergreen Lodge just outside Yosemite National Park provides a tent, air mattresses, sleeping bags, towels, camp chairs and a lantern all set up and waiting for you when you arrive. Cooking is not allowed, but after a day tramping around the giant sequoias or braving the icy spray at Bridalveil Fall, you can enjoy a cocktail and fine meal at the lodge's restaurant or pub while the kids make s'mores at the rec center. Now that's what I call the great outdoors. Visit

— Christie Wilson

Old Europe's organs are music for soul

Tours to Europe can sometimes degenerate into "just another cathedral." The famous ones, like Notre Dame or Westminster Abbey, are often too crowded to enjoy, and after a while one flying buttress begins to look like another. But wander into just about any old church in Central Europe and you might happen upon someone practicing the pipe organ. Some of these instruments are centuries old but have been restored and sound terrific, particularly those in the former East Germany. I've enjoyed wonderful impromptu concerts in Berlin, Eisenach (Bach's birthplace) and other German cities. It's a spiritual experience to sit in those old pews with your eyes closed and let the sound envelop you.

— Steven Mark

Get tickets to see Disney spectacular

Unlike most Disney shows, the new mesmerizing water and light spectacular "World of Color" at Disney's California Adventure park in Anaheim, Calif., requires tickets to obtain a decent viewing spot. You can get tickets by shelling out for dinner at Wine Country Trattoria or Ariel's Grotto (dinner is $39.99 for adults, $20.99 for kids ages 3 to 9) or lunch at Wine Country Trattoria ($29.99, $18.99). For reservations call 714-781-3463.

A $15.99 picnic lunch from the Golden Vine Winery will score you one reserved-section ticket per picnic box. You can pre-order picnic boxes at If you choose to buy the box on the day of the show, make sure you buy it before dinner time, as they sell out.

Last, if you want a free ticket to the show, hit the Fastpass queue next to the Grizzly River Run ride first thing in the morning. We went to the theme park on a relatively slow day in early June, and the passes were gone two hours after the gates opened.

— Donica Kaneshiro

Nuances of GPS can aid in location hunt

A GPS is a handy thing to have when traveling, and so is a smartphone like the iPhone with map capability. Keep in mind, though, that they work in different ways. Global positioning satellites fix the location of the GPS unit, which relies on internal memory of national maps that might be outdated. Also, if the unit cannot "see" at least three satellites, as when you're under a viaduct or between tall buildings in a city or inside a steep canyon, it might not be able to fix your location. Although it might access up-to-date mapping information, a smartphone figures your location in relation to local cellphone signal towers, and if you're in an area that has no cell signal, you also have no mapping info. So a combination of the two is best.

If you're using a GPS, make sure you've programmed your route either "fast" or "direct." They're not the same thing. "Fast" will get you there the quickest way on highways, and "direct" will attempt a straight-line approach, which might lead to an interesting detour on back country roads.

— Burl Burlingame

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